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Justice Dept. indicts 11 pro-life activists for blocking abortion clinic entrance

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The entrance signage for the United States Department of Justice Building in Washington D.C. The Department of Justice, the U.S. law enforcement and administration of Justice government agency. |

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced the arrest of 11 pro-life activists for violating federal law by blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic in Tennessee.

The DOJ released a statement on Wednesday saying that an unsealed federal indictment charged 11 people with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

The charges follow an indictment from a grand jury sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Monday.

The DOJ identified those charged with FACE Act violations as Chester Gallagher, 73, of Lebanon, Tennessee; Heather Idoni, 58, Calvin Zastrow, 57; and Caroline Davis, 24; all from Michigan; Coleman Boyd, 51, of Bolton, Mississippi; Dennis Green, 56, of Cumberland, Virginia; Paul Vaughn, 55, of Centerville, Tennessee; Eva Edl, 87, of Aiken, South Carolina; Eva Zastro, 24, of Dover, Arkansas; James Zastro, 25, of Eldon Missouri; and Paul Place, 24, of Centerville, Tennessee.

"The indictment alleges that, beginning in February 2021, Chester Gallagher utilized social media to promote a series of anti-abortion events scheduled for March 4-7, 2021, in the Nashville area," the DOJ's statement reads.

"On March 4, 2021, Coleman Boyd and Chester [Gallagher] advertised the blockade of the Carafem Health Center Clinic in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, which was planned for the following day."

Noting that Gallagher characterized the blockade as a "rescue" on his social media account, the DOJ contends that the "coconspirators and others blocked the clinic's entry doors and prevented a patient and an employee from entering."

The DOJ statement asserts that the 11 people "used force and physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, and interfere with employees of the clinic and a patient seeking reproductive health services."

Seven of the 11 defendants face conspiracy charges under the FACE Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. The remaining defendants, charged with misdemeanors, could face up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

Passed in 1994, the FACE Act subjects anyone who attempts "to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person because that person is or has been, or in order to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from, obtaining or providing reproductive health services" to federal charges.

Randall Terry, the founder of the pro-life activist organization Operation Rescue, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that the FACE Act "effectively broke the back of our movement."

Terry said before the act was enacted, pro-life protesters who blocked the entrances to abortion clinics would only face local trespassing charges instead of federal charges.

In a statement Thursday, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life grassroots advocacy organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, condemned the 11 indictments as the latest example of "the Biden administration's egregious abuse of the Justice Department."

"Pro-abortion Democrats will stop at nothing to protect the abortion industry that spends millions to elect them, while demonizing pro-life advocates working to save lives and turning a blind eye to violence against them," stated Dannenfelser. 

Dannenfelser believes the federal government has adopted a double standard in enforcing the law, arguing that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has done little to investigate the rise of vandalism and violence targeting pro-life pregnancy care centers nationwide this year. 

The Christian Post has compiled lists of vandalism incidents that have occurred following the leaking of the U.S. Supreme Court's draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization determining that the U.S. Constitution did not contain a right to abortion and additional vandalism that has taken place after the Dobbs decision was formally announced in June.

"Pregnancy centers have been firebombed, an elderly canvasser peacefully exercising her First Amendment rights was shot in the back, and the pro-life movement's calls for equal justice under the law have been ignored," Dannenfelser added.

"Still, the FBI refuses to conduct a transparent investigation and state whether any arrests have been made in scores of attacks since the leak of the Dobbs decision."

The latest indictments under the FACE Act come less than two weeks after the DOJ and FBI faced criticism for the early-morning arrest at pro-life activist Mark Houck's home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

The DOJ announced Houck's indictment on Sept. 23, accusing him of twice assaulting a man who served as "a volunteer reproductive health care clinic escort" outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia.

A fundraiser for Houck's family insisted that he peacefully prayed outside the Philadelphia clinic when the escort began to harass his son.

"When one of the escorts began harassing Mark's son they walked down the street away from the entrance to the building. The escort followed them, and when he continued yelling at Mark's son, Mark pushed him away," an entry on the fundraiser page states. 

Under the terms of his release on $10,000 bail, Houck must surrender his passport and firearms in addition to refraining from traveling outside the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the legal proceedings against him are unfolding.

Houck also cannot engage in prayer or sidewalk counseling at the Planned Parenthood clinic where the altercation occurred.

As Houck faces the possibility of fines up to $350,000, the fundraiser for his family has raised over $368,000 as of Friday afternoon. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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